Virginia Becker has done many jobs in the past, from working as an alternative high school teacher to running a tattoo shop. Taking up photography, though, was one thing she didn’t see coming.
Now, she can’t imagine doing anything else.
“With the Family Album Project, in the past five years, we've given away over 60,000 free individual and family portraits to family that otherwise wouldn't have access to them. So it's foster kids, it's low income apartments, it's wheelchair Olympics… ,” she says unable to name all of the groups she’s worked with.
Donating her time and expertise, Becker documents important milestones and moments. She works with organizations like the Downtown Streets Team and the Ronald McDonald House where she snaps photos and prints them on the spot so that her subjects have a hard copy to walk away with.
“You are going to walk away with a bag of professional quality prints cause that's the core of what we do.”
Before she ventured to pick up a camera, Becker dreamed of becoming an actor. But knowing that it would be difficult to find success in that profession, she decided to get a job doing what
she says was the next best thing: teaching. Later taking a job running a tattoo parlor before eventually getting into photography, she says that each job she’s done has played a role in her current success.
“Everything that I had done in the past I think kind of built up to this and this is like the big crescendo of why am I here I think,” she says.
Then, just five years ago, she decided to pick up a camera. Her original interest in photography was piqued when a friend’s mother passed away and in gathering photos of her for the memorial, she realized that there were no prints from the last 10 years. Everything was digital.
“I think we’re losing a big part of our history by not printing – by not having a shoebox of prints,” she says.
The more she investigated, though, she learned that many of life’s milestone’s were not being captured at all, particularly among society’s most vulnerable. Becker decided to make it her mission to take those pictures. For free.
Having only a very basic understanding of photography, she realized she needed to learn a lot, including what equipment to buy and how to use it.
“I didn't know the difference between an F-stop and a bus stop,” she jokes.
So she took the classes and bought the equipment and jumped in. After a bit of a rocky start at her first couple of jobs, she has now honed in on her craft.
“I didn't think we were gonna be able to pull it together and over the course of five years… I'm the master of my studio.”
When asked why she chooses to do what she does, she says it’s for the unsung heroes and those who want their story told. Becker expresses the incredible awe she has for parents who have a child with a terminal illness, or some cases, have lost their child.
“Anybody who is a survivor of a disaster is and can pick themselves up and keep going is a hero. So I get to meet heroes all the time.”
Like teaching or working in a tattoo parlor, working in portrait photography is a social activity. But for Becker, it has become so much more.
“Having a camera in my hand is… it's a key. It gets me into all these worlds that I'm probably the only person in the whole world that ever gets to see this and it's all because I can push a button on a camera. That's it.”